• April 18, 2024

Tobacco Used to Create Moth Pheromones

 Tobacco Used to Create Moth Pheromones
Image: Tobacco Reporter archive

Scientists have used Nicotiana benthamiana, a species of tobacco, to produce the sex pheromone of two moth species, which could potentially help cut down on pesticides, according to Tech Explorist.

By using precision gene engineering techniques, scientists at the Earlham Institute in Norwich have been able to turn tobacco plants into solar-powered factories for moth sex pheromones.

To trap or divert male insects from mating, farmers can place pheromone dispersers in their crops to mimic the signals of female insects.

“Synthetic biology can allow us to engineer plants to make a lot more of something they already produced, or we can provide the genetic instructions that allow them to build new biological molecules, such as medicines or these pheromones,” said Nicola Patron, the study’s principal investigator and director of the Earlham Institute’s Synthetic Biology Group.

“As we increase the efficiency, too much energy is diverted away from normal growth and development,” Patron added. “The plants are producing a lot of pheromones, but they’re not able to grow very large, which essentially reduces the capacity of our production line. Our new research provides a way to regulate gene expression with much more subtlety.”

“We’ve shown we can control the levels of expression of each gene relative to the others. This allows us to control the ratio of products that are made.”

“Getting that recipe right is particularly important for moth pheromones as they’re often a blend of two or three molecules in specific ratios. Our collaborators in Spain are now extracting the plant-made pheromones and testing them in dispensers to see how well they compare to female moths.”